She's gone and done it now. Charlotte, ignoring all my warnings, all her home training, cut down a magnolia tree. Such an act, for any reason, sits on par with the sins of disparaging Elvis, forgetting your yes ma'ams, spelling y'all incorrectly, asking a lady her age, and killing mockingbirds.
When I said, "You dare not cut down that huge magnolia. Especially when it's still in full, fragrant bloom," Charlotte put her hands over her ears and sang, "La, la, la, la, I can't hear you," and felled it anyway.
Her daddy, chagrined, assured her there's a law against cutting down magnolias. "That's white oaks, Daddy," Charlotte corrected.
"Baby girl, you think you know so much. But I'm telling you around here the law deals with magnolias." Having served as sheriff of this county for 30 years, he probably knows.
Charlotte's mama, bless her heart, could only shake her head, shamed at her daughter making a spectacle of the family like that. After all, they have to suffer the stain of her indiscretion on their good name.
"I think cutting down a magnolia is bad luck," I advised her, trying to go a little easier on Charlotte than her kinfolks. "It's a crime against nature, like denigrating the iron cross, spitting on the sidewalk, forgetting to apply lipstick, or building a house without a porch. Mark my words, something bad will happen. Your eyebrows might get bushy and grow together."
Noting her disregard for my reproach and consumed by worry for the salvation of her southern soul, I shared the story of my baby brother, hoping it would help her see the error of her ways and inspire her to set things right.
My baby brother grew up in the shadow of a family crest emblazoned with the words Everybody ought to have a gun; an addition made by my Mama T. To her way of thinking, if the constitution of the United States says we can, then we shall.
One afternoon, eager to practice with his pump-action pellet gun, baby brother headed out to the woods. What to his wandering eyes did appear, but a mockingbird upon a branch, preening between songs.
My brother's heart raced. He stealthily pumped the gun once, twice, 30 times. He sighted it, pulled the trigger, and POP!
The mockingbird made a muffled thump on the forest floor and my brother stood over it, impressed with his accuracy. Recognizing what he had done, however, and recalling the words of our mother, who counseled him never to shoot an animal he didn't intend to eat, he decided in that instant that a man has to do what a man has to do. So, with hands caked in guilt, he built a fire, gutted and plucked the fowl, shoved the slight body onto a whittled skewer, and roasted it.
"What does that have to do with me?" Charlotte scoffed.
Okay, so nothing hair-raising happened to my baby brother, a little kid who acted impulsively, only doing what boys do. I suspect that very likely no ill befell him because he atoned for his transgression by nibbling the unseasoned, gamey meat from the tiny bones of the mockingbird.
Charlotte, on the other hand, a grown woman, (a member of garden club, a lady of Confederate heritage), engaged in premeditated sin and, according to her daddy, lawlessness. Good gracious alive, she should know better than to defile and betray the Georgia landscape in such a devil-be-danged manner.
"I guess what I'm trying to tell you, Charlotte," I softly replied, "is you're going to have to eat that tree."